Issue VII -- Women Writers


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Read about the contributors to our seventh issue and see excerpts from each article or story.

Issue VII Contents

In Sweet Jerusalem -- K. D. Wentworth

A unique way of encouraging us to keep our cities clean has unforeseen side effects for Nick and those like him.

Woman Who Wasn't a Shavetail -- Marian Allen

A youth from out of town who needs help tracking down his lost brother leads Shahtsi to assemble an assortment of characters to find him. 

Interchange -- Cherith Baldry

When Mary Maynard disappears on a space station, Kit her student is determined to find her, even though the authorities aren't convinced she's there.

Harrowing Hell -- Mary Turzillo

Mary Turzillo takes the idea of a Greek  legend and brings it up to date in a story about the perils of Virtual Reality that may not be as far into our future as we would like to believe. 

Tin Soldier -- Resa Nelson

In a future world where a tattoo defines your genetic suitability to become a parent, some people will do anything to have a child. A plan Rick goes along with until at twenty-eight, he learns what it means to take responsibility.

Signs and Portents -- Sherry Ramsay

A cover up at the local Linear Accelerator is the least of Phil Jackson's worries when he sees words on signs that are different from the words others see. That is until he discovers a link between the two.

Asleep in the Arms of Lethe -- Elizabeth Hardage

Nursing the elderly in a secure Luna nursing home takes on a new dimension for Jun as her charges inexplicably begin dying.

In Sweet Jerusalem by K. D. Wentworth © 2002 K. D. Wentworth

K. D. Wentworth was born and attended college in Oklahoma. She teaches elementary school and won the Writer's of the Future contest in 1998. Since then, she has sold over fifty short stories -- two of them Nebula finalists.

Nick wandered the teeming New York streets, as always in the forlorn hope of finding something, anything, however small, to  deposit. It was late June and heat had descended over the suffering city every morning for the past week until it seemed  everyone would smother.

Before he had lost his home, he had not understood what a palpable presence the heat could be, how it could stalk you like a thief and steal the very breath out of your lungs. He picked his way around the sizzling stretches of bare pavement when he could, but was often forced to cross and then the heat seared his bare feet to the bone. Shoes would have protected him, but even if he’d possessed a pair, in his present state of desperation, he wouldn’t have been able to keep them on for more than five minutes. He’d picked up a free ham and cheese sandwich down at the shelter, but he couldn’t bring himself to eat it yet. Real food always tasted like sawdust these days.

Then, when he rounded the corner, he saw it, the blue-and-white city trash can standing like a beacon across the street. A sleek middle-aged woman, salt-and-pepper hair pinned up against the heat, stopped before its open maw and tossed in a cigarette butt. The ever present ache curled up around his spine like a sleeping dragon twitched its tail. 

Two seconds later, the trash receptacle judged the refuse ‘acceptable’ and vented it down to the great fusion conversion torch beneath the city. The woman’s head arched back as the can stimulated the pleasure centers within her brain.

His hands shook. He hadn’t eaten for four days and now this. Blotting the sweat off his face with the back of a threadbare sleeve, Nick felt his bare foot take that first step into the overheated street. The woman opened her eyes and strode off, a vacant smile on her face. Nick took another step toward the trash can as she disappeared around the corner. He was holding the sandwich so tightly now that it had gone shapeless between his fingers. It would have tasted like cardboard slathered with glue anyway.

Might as well feed it to the can ... might as well ...

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The Woman Who Wasn't a Shavetail by Marian Allen © 2002, Marian Allen

Marian Allen lives in Indiana with her husband, children and an assortment of animals. She has worked as a high school teacher, accountant, executive secretary and Red Cross youth worker. Her three novels have been published by Serendipity Systems. She is a member of the Southern Indiana Writer's Group.

I was standing here, right on this very spot, when this bare-necked beggar, not old but not a kit, came up. He was yellow-orange – they’re never anything but trouble – and obviously out of place in the big city. You know how these yokels are ... well, I guess you don’t, you being an off-worlder. They’re either rough-looking or over-groomed; some of them use pomade to get that fur just so, you know? This fella was a little on the shaggy side. Nothing on – not a chestpack, not a purse-belt, nothing. Oh – he had a burlap pocket fastened to his fur with a couple of pinch-clips; it was up under his arm, where the hicks like to tuck them. Those evil city-slickers can’t steal your alfalfa money if you clip it right up there under your arm, right?

“Go on, get out of here,” I said. “You're blocking the table.”

He looked around, but nobody was interested in jewelry and holy trinkets; this stuff I put outside usually grabs tourists, but this was off-season. He pulled out his pink slip – his status papers – to show me he was freehold – as if I couldn’t tell from his neck: no collar, you know? – as of the Release.

See, at the Release – comes every seven years – all slaves are freed. All slave records automatically roll over to freehold at the Central Registry.

You’re doing that face: that ‘slavery is evil’ face you Terrans make. Excuse me, I don’t mean to be rude, but it gets my back hairs up. Look at this – look at how they’re standing on end back there. I hate that.

Our slaves get a signing fee – sometimes pretty hefty – in place of a salary. They have a union. No kidnapping allowed, like you people used to do. Okay, okay, it was before your time. No offense meant, none taken, I hope. Every seven years, they’re all freed and either sign up again or don’t.

“So you're free,” I said to the beggar. “Congratulations.”

“I need a place to spend the night, and some food.”

“Why tell me? Look – ” I pointed across the street. “There's a man with a brazier. Smell that spiced meat? He sells that to hungry people. And look over there – there’s a sign in that window, ‘Rooms to Let’.”

“I don’t have any money.”

“Is that my problem?”

“Help me. Please.” He held out his palms, like this, with the fingers spread. That’s like a kit wanting to be picked up, it’s that kind of asking. He was telling me he wasn’t a man compared to me, that his universe revolved around me. His palms were calloused but not cracked. He had done plenty of hard work on a long-term basis; had kept his pads medicated until they toughened up, a sure sign of a good worker. So what was he doing in the city, asking me for a handout?

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Interchange by Cherith Baldry © 2002 Cherith Baldry

Cherith Baldry was born in Lancaster, England and studied at Manchester University and St. Anne's College, Oxford. After a time teaching, including lecturing at the University of Sierra Leone, Cherith is now a full time writer. Her novel, The Reliquary Ring is published by MacMillan this year.

“I’m looking for information about Mary Maynard,” the young man said. “My name’s Kit Austen. They told me to come here at the check-in. You are the head of Admin., Mr...?”

Stephen eyed him coldly from behind his desk. “Curtis. Stephen Curtis. And who exactly are you? Have you authorization? We don’t hand out information to just anyone.”

“Sorry.” Kit dug into an inside pocket and produced a plastic identity strip. “You do remember Mary Maynard, then?”

Stephen fed the strip into his computer and examined the details that flashed up on the monitor. His unexpected visitor’s identity strip was in order, and carried clearance from the University where Mary Maynard had worked. Somehow Stephen found that irritating.

He handed back the strip. “Here at Interchange we pride ourselves on efficiency. Very few passengers go missing. We tend to remember the ones that do.”

“So what can you tell me?”

Stephen touched a key, and information rippled up on his screen. “Mary Maynard arrived here on the regular shuttle from Earth, and booked a room for five days while she waited for her connection to Sirius Three.”

“That’s right. She was due to speak at a conference.”

“She never made that connection. Our investigations discovered that no one had seen her for twenty-four hours before that. All the evidence suggests that she either stowed away on a different ship, or opened an airlock and stepped out into space.”

Kit shook his head. “Mary wouldn’t do either of those things. She wasn’t like that. I suppose you did run a lifesigns check to make sure she wasn’t still on the station?”

Stephen gave him an unfriendly stare. Kit was a tall young man dressed in rumpled denim. His tawny hair was brushed back as if he faced into the wind. He had a backpack slung over one shoulder, and carried a guitar, in its case, in the other hand. In the antiseptic, recycled air of Interchange he somehow managed to bring a breath of the outdoors. Stephen felt that he took up too much space, or perhaps that his clean gray office was suddenly too small.

Kit returned his look with a clear, interested gaze, showing nothing of the revulsion, or worse still the horrified fascination that Stephen identified on most people’s face when they first saw his scars.

That fascination made Stephen uneasy with strangers. As Head of Admin., he could usually delegate contact with the passengers to one of his subordinates, but now, as Interchange wound down, the rest of his staff had already left. There was no one else to deal with this annoying young man – which did nothing to improve Stephen’s mood.

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Harrowing Hell by Mary Turzillo © 2002 Queen Mab's Workhouse

Mary Turzillo's story Mars is no Place for Children won the 1999 Nebula for Best Science Fiction Novelette. A former Kent State University professor, she has published stories in Fantasy and Science Fiction, Interzone, Science Fiction Age and anthologies in the United States, Germany, Italy and Japan.

In her virtual kingdom, Dimitrea roved alone among atoms, exploring bonds, pulling molecules apart, re-engineering tulips and radishes. Her work was her essence, and she earned the green to live a bucolic life, patenting berries that tasted like paradise, pineapples that eased arthritis, soy beans that cured breast cancer. She was master of one of the two great technologies, and operator of the other.

But Dimitrea was alone, and so, because she knew apples from oranges, there was a pregnancy, and then there was Cora.

Young Cora blossomed. Helping plant bulbs one fair October day, Cora found a tiny, propeller-nosed mole accidentally cut in two by Dimitrea’s spade, and begged her mother to heal it.

Dimitrea had to explain that using the two technologies to work on animals was forbidden by law, because it might lead to working the technologies on human DNA.

Cora did not question that, then. Cora never questioned anything, then. But biddable six-year-olds bloom into sullen preteens; it’s only natural.

So, one sultry afternoon when Dimitrea shed her headset, she saw that Cora had been waiting, all hot to pounce, boiling over to talk. Dimitrea shook her head clear of her current problem, virtual radicals to be transplanted until they replicated the enzyme she needed. She stretched her neck to enjoy the stir of air against her cheeks.

“Mom, you’ll positively logoff. I met Princess Di.”

Dimitrea sniffed something fishy, but she welcomed any chance to talk with her moody child. “Princess Di? Where?”

“Absoleau tropic! So brave, and beautiful. And I saw Mother Theresa and Theodore Sturgeon and – ”

“ – And not Elvis, I hope.”

“Mom, zero it. Everybody has met Elvis. I got to talk to Princess Di, and I saw Haderic, only that’s nothing, because he’s alive.”

Fear prickled the back of Dimitrea’s neck, where the headset had bit into her skin. “You were surfing Hell, weren’t you? You promised me if I didn’t install child-proof software you’d keep out of Z-rated worlds.”

“Haderic’s world isn’t Z-rated. I mean, it is, but it shouldn’t be. Princess Di is practically a Catholic saint.”

“The real Princess Di. God only knows what Haderic has done with her. Cora, you’re only twelve. Keep to the mainstream sites.”

Cora made as if to leave, then turned around. “I suppose that means you’ll try to stop me from going to the VRom.”

“What’s that? Is the school running it?”

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Tin Soldier by Resa Nelson © 2002 Resa Nelson

Resa Nelson has sold over a dozen stories to Science Fiction Age, Aboriginal and several anthologies. She is also the TV/Movie columnist for Realms of Fantasy.

Rick watched anxiously as Abby undid the buttons of her silk blouse. On the last button, she froze. He followed her gaze as she looked at the license she’d placed on her nightstand after retrieving it from today’s mail. He watched her eyes trace and retrace the words embossed in gold at the bottom: ‘United States Government – There is only one good reason to have a child.’

It wasn’t that Abby's looks repulsed him. She was just the kind of woman who failed to inspire a second glance. She was doughy and overweight. Skin pale and freckled. Hair black and wiry.

The one beautiful thing was what she didn’t have: a gene tattoo.

From the way Abby stared at her license, she must have been on the verge of changing her mind. Rick couldn’t let that happen. He’d invested too many years in her. “What’s wrong?” he said.

She didn’t look at him. Instead, she focused on the last button, still undone. “I don’t know.”

Naked under Abby’s large and luxurious comforter, Rick slid over to the edge of the bed. If Abby wasn’t beautiful, at least she owned a beautiful sky-rise condo in the heart of Houston. 

The rooms were spacious, the carpets plush and feather soft, and the furniture was heavy and expensive.

With a soft and gentle touch, he caught her hovering hands inside his.

Abby looked up abruptly. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I’m forty and you’re twenty eight. Maybe I’m having second thoughts about – but I can’t be having second thoughts! I’m so lucky. So fortunate. This is exactly what I’ve always wanted. Beyond my wildest dreams, even. I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t – ”

Abby gasped softly as Rick pressed the back of her hands to his lips.

Rick watched her closely. He paid attention to the tiniest hint of color creeping across her face. The expression in her eyes. The flickering of her gaze.

Rick kissed her fingertips lightly. “Do you trust me?”

When her hands trembled inside his, Rick squeezed to hold them steady.

“Yes. Of course. I put my life in your hands every day.” 

Rick rose on his knees on Abby’s bed to face her as she stood next to it. He let loose the last button and pushed her blouse off her shoulders. “Show me where they took it out.”

Obediently, Abby raised one arm to show him the underside of her biceps. The scar was fresh and tender, about two inches long. “I took the bandage off this morning,” she said.

Rick took a good look at it. He traced his fingertips around the scar. He drank in the moment as if it were well-aged whiskey. He savored every second.

Her doctor had removed her Preconceive implant, leaving tiny and precise stitches. It was official. Now she could get pregnant. Abby was likely to be the richest and most powerful woman Rick would ever know, but touching the skin around her scar drove the point home.

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Signs and Portents by Sherry Ramsay © 2002 Sherry Ramsay

I didn’t notice the coming of the Sign Man. The first time I saw him he was already a fixture on the corner halfway between the newspaper building and the post office, tattered black overcoat flapping around him like last year’s feathers on a molting crow. I met his mad eyes across the street for only an instant before averting my own with the city-dweller’s practiced ease.

A crude placard, today’s sign, hung below his matted beard. Careful block print proclaimed, ‘RAAL COVER-UP!’

Startled, I looked again. RAAL was the Russell Affiliated Accelerator Lab, where I was headed to do an interview. But no, the sign read ‘RAFFLE COVER-UP,’ and in smaller letters, ‘Lies in the House of God.’

I blinked. I knew the story; I’d written it. A recent local scandal in a church-run funding scheme. But I could have sworn the sign said “RAAL.” I stopped walking and watched the Sign Man while the ‘Don’t Walk’ sign blinked its crimson warning. He began shouting, one fist pounding an imaginary wall while his beard swayed in time. He sure was riled up about a little church corruption. The sign definitely read ‘RAFFLE.’

Well, I had RAAL on my mind, I rationalized, since I was on my way out there. And I had only glanced at the sign. It happens. But my stomach writhed, as if I’d eaten something disagreeable. If I closed my eyes I could still see the image of the sign, the letters ‘RAAL’ sharply drawn.

The light changed, and a well-dressed woman ahead of me glanced across at Sign Man as she stepped off the curb. She did a double-take, cartoon-style, and stopped abruptly. I almost bumped into her, but she just stood gaping across at the Sign Man. He wasn’t even looking at her. He’d suddenly stopped shouting and was thanking someone who'd pressed a coin into his hand.

The woman turned to me, frowning. “What does that sign say?”

“Raffle cover-up,” I answered. “Why?”

Her face drained as pale as Sign Man’s cheap white posterboard. “Thanks,” she choked, and hurried on across the street.

Bemused, I looked back at the Sign Man. He was staring at me. Expressionless and deliberate, he winked. A shiver pricked me, like I’d left my coat back at the office.

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Asleep in the Arms of Lethe by Elizabeth Hardage © 2002 Elizabeth Hardage

The second of our gods died the morning of April sixth, face down in a pool of jasmine.

At the time I was pushing the Rejuvenation machines and their accompanying sera down the cool beige corridor to Madame Hsieh’s living quarters. The scent of jasmine teased my nostrils as I steered the heavy cart down the hall; normally the cart drove itself to appointments, but that was too slow for me today. I wanted desperately to be on time so that Madam Hsieh could indulge in her one vice: a cup of jasmine tea before the discomfort of Rejuvenation.

Technically she wasn’t supposed to drink any caffeine at all, none of the Rejuvenated were supposed to; but it was such a small vice, and a pleasant one at that. We would sit cross-legged at the edge of a tiny pond and watch flame-colored carp glide by as we sipped golden tea from china cups thin as eggshell. Tendrils of fragrant steam rose from Madame Hsieh’s fingers and a smile of Buddha-like tranquility settled upon her fine, ancient face.

I knew I wouldn’t get in trouble for indulging Madame Hsieh’s one little vice; so renowned and so thoroughly charming a woman could bend the rules, even on Luna Prime. I felt a lopsided grin moving across my face as I stopped the cart, and myself, in front of her doorway and pressed the door chime. Of all the Rejuvenated I visited, she was my personal favorite, one of the few I  looked forward to seeing.

The smell of jasmine grew stronger. Soon I’d hear her faint, crackly voice, ever so faintly accented: “Jun. Early as usual. You do your job too well.”

I pressed the door signal a second time. Madame Hsieh had reprogrammed it to sound like wind chimes.


The wind chimes tinkled again. No response.

“Madame Hsieh?” I leaned into the comm unit. “It’s Jun. I’m here for Rejuvenation. Is there something wrong with your door signal?”

I pressed my ear against the comm unit. A whisper came from the other side of the door: “Li...teh. Ah.”

The next thing I heard was breaking china. 

By instinct my right hand drew out the keypad and punched in the security override. As soon as the override took effect I pushed back the cart and rammed into the door with all my might. It flew open just long enough for me to haul myself, and the cart, into Madame Hsieh’s quarters.

She lay before me, face down, surrounded by spilled tea and shards of porcelain. I knelt by her side. Her pulse was weak and erratic. Her eyes were closed, and the pupils didn’t dilate when I pulled up her lids.

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